Our intern Connor Lake wrote this thoughtful article on the agility and symbiosis of small businesses. We couldn’t agree more Connor. Thank you for the contribution.
The proverbial phrase “Two heads are better than one” is something most of us have heard since we were kids. Quite simply it states one thing – working together is better than working alone. While I completely agree with this sentiment, one must also remember that “Too much of a good thing” can be worse than none at all. Are four heads better than two? Are eight better than four? Where does one draw the line between “Two heads are better than one” and “Too many cooks in the kitchen”?
I say where, instead of when, because I believe it is completely relative to the context of the situation. Car stuck in a ditch? The more the merrier. Trying to pick a movie on Netflix? Better off on your own.
Given the choice of working for a small, intimate company or a large, national one I’d choose the little guy every time. Not only for the streamlined business processes, but also for the sense of fulfillment, meaningful relationships and connection to the local community that only a small business can offer. In fact, I’d say that small businesses are a perfect example of the proverb “less is more”.
First and foremost, small businesses can be significantly more agile than their larger corporate counterparts. It is often much easier to pivot your priorities with a small team than a large one – something like an altered deadline could result in countless revisions to all sorts of internal and external documents across multiple levels of seniority in a large company. In a small company, onboarding a group of people you are comfortable and familiar with is a much less daunting challenge. On top of this, many of the internal documents a large company needs are unnecessary in a smaller one. This largely ties into the fact that keeping 100’s, even 1000’s of employees aligned with the company’s values, beliefs and vision requires a rigid framework of protocols. It’s simple; the more moving parts in a system, the more room for error. Having less ducks to keep in a row allows small businesses to be extremely adaptable, enabling them to change focus in a moments notice.
Feeling Good, Working Better.
Those who say there is no room for ‘feelings’ in business have sunk themselves too far into the corporate rabbit-hole. Studies have proven that happy employees are more productive than those who are not. A buzzword used in psychological circles that helps describe why is: “Cohesiveness”. Group cohesion is measured by group members’ inclination to interact with one another as well as their willingness to stay within that group. It is essentially the extent to which members within a group are unified. Interestingly enough, many of the factors that lead to strong group cohesion are indicative of small businesses. These factors include working in close proximity with small, homogenous groups for extended periods of time, positive perception of the group’s status within society and the success of the group. Small businesses tend to attract like-minded individuals with similar goals. Given the intimate nature of these businesses, these employees typically have more involvement and a higher degree of personal investment in the work being done. This results in the group’s successes giving a sense of fulfillment and improving their perception of the group itself, which leads to higher productivity, which leads back to more involvement in operations. This feedback loop of involvement, individual fulfillment from group successes, and increased productivity forges a strong bond between employees, which further increases cohesiveness. The ability of small businesses to move not only quickly, but also as a unit is among their greatest strengths. This unity allows for efficient operation and a sense of family within the business that can’t be found anywhere else.
A local business is only as strong as it’s community, and a community is only as strong as the sum of its parts – this symbiotic relationship results in “a rising tide lifting all ships”. Despite their size, small businesses can have a huge impact on their communities. Beyond the obvious economical benefits of providing local jobs and promoting local spending, they also add value to their communities by helping shape their identities. This is an intangible benefit that extends into the roots of the community, entrenching the business in local events and influencing up-and-coming generations. As businesses help grow their communities through volunteer work, sponsorships and events, they are also building relationships with, and empowering their target market. It’s a “win-win”.
The real magic happens when multiple, cohesive small businesses work together to shape their communities. In theory, these small businesses can be seen as independent entities within part of another small group – the local business community. One could also assert that the factors influencing cohesiveness can be seen in the relationship between local businesses. They all believe in their community and want to see it thrive, (perception of group & homogenous beliefs), they work alongside each other day in and day out (proximity & time) and when one of them wins, the community wins, and they all win (fulfillment & group success). Thus, one could view the feedback loop of local business community involvement, fulfillment from communal growth, increased business and improved city perception as a macrocosm of the feedback loop previously discussed within small businesses. This type of symbiosis is only possible with small companies due to their innate knowledge of their communities, their ability to collaborate among themselves and as a community, and their adaptability.
Those who say that there is “strength in numbers” have clearly never worked with, or for, a small company. Their agile, adaptable and communal nature allows them to outsmart, and in some cases even outmuscle, large corporate entities. Their impact on the community is also anything but small, and results in a much more sustainable business model for creating jobs and supporting the community. So, in the case of small businesses, I would argue that two heads are still better than one, but they’re also better than one hundred.